Rushmore

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This story about the misery that comes from the grandiosity and humiliation during adolescence is probably of more interest to adults than to the teens who are already only too aware of those experiences. Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is a 10th grader on scholarship at the tony private school Rushmore Academy. His passionate devotion to the school is demonstrated by his frenetic participation in every possible extra-curricular activity, including the staging of his elaborate (if derivative) plays. His grades, however, are close to disastrous, and the headmaster tells him that if they do not improve, he will be expelled.

Max develops a crush on one of the teachers at the school, a beautiful young widow. And he forms a close alliance with Blume, a wealthy alumnus of the school (Bill Murray), a man who is drawn to Max’s passions, and even acts as a go-between for Max’s absurd attempt at courtship, until he himself becomes attracted to the teacher.

All three main characters are feeling a sense of loss. Blume and the teacher seem stuck. Max, with his collision of adult and childish emotions, comes up with one hopeless scheme after another to attract attention and respect, ignoring the genuine opportunities for real friendship that are presented to him. He lies about receiving sexual favors from another student’s mother. He tells people his father is a brain surgeon instead of a barber. He decides that what will solve his problems is getting Blume to spend $8 million on an acquarium for the school, located on the school’s playing field. He gets drunk and insults the teacher’s date. He even risks killing Blume. Yet somehow, he manages to keep working toward his dreams, and even to make a few of them come true.

This is not a movie in which people learn great lessons and are drawn closer together. This is a movie in which a lot of hurt people grope toward something that even they cannot quite visualize. Its appeal is in its quirky characters and in its moments of humor and perception.

Parental concerns include very strong language and sexual references as well as extremely reckless and destructive behavior.

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Comedy High School

She’s All That

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Get ready. The success of movies like “Scream” has led to an upcoming avalanche of movies transplanting every possible movie plot into high school. This one takes “Pygmalion” with a few touches from “Pretty in Pink,” “Easter Parade,” “Cinderella,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It falls smack dab in the middle of a genre I call “the makeover movie,” in which Our Heroine achieves success through good grooming and accessorizing. The result here is uneven, with some good performances and even some witty commentary on teen culture, but beware — the raunchy references make this inappropriate for younger teens, and even parents of mature high schoolers might want to consider it carefully.

Zach, the most popular and talented boy in high school (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) gets dumped by his beautiful but mean girlfriend the day after spring vacation of their senior year. She has met an MTV-celebrity (Matthew Lillard, hilarious as a self-obsessed gross-out champion based on MTV’s legendary Puck). Zach and his best friend bet that he can take any girl in school and get her elected prom queen before the end of school. The choice is drab Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), who is coping with her mother’s death by taking care of her father and brother and by worrying about problems throughout the world instead of working through her own feelings of loss.

Laney is one of the least persuasive ugly ducklings in the history of movies. She shucks her glasses and her overalls, and my goodness! She’s beautiful! And my goodness! Zach finds himself actually caring for her. The plot is almost numbingly predictable, but one of the movie’s strengths it that it makes clear that Zach and Laney have both limited themselves by defining themselves before they have really had a chance to find out who they are.

The movie’s other strengths are Prinze, who has a wonderful screen presence and the magnificent Anna Paquin as his younger sister. Cook’s performance is flat by comparison. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe is a caricature as Zach’s former girlfriend.

Parental concerns include strong language, teen drinking, and casual sex (though not by the main characters). Zach’s friend brags that he is going to get Laney to have sex with him in a hotel room he has arranged for the occasion. For some reason, when Laney’s friend overhears this, instead of making the stunningly obvious move of telling Laney what the guy has in mind, he races around trying to get the message to someone else. Parents should know that the movie includes an ugly and graphic scene in which a school bully torments Laney’s hearing-impaired brother by reaching into his pants to grab some pubic hair and putting it on his pizza. Zach then forces the bully and his friend to eat it. Yuck.

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Comedy Family Issues High School Romance

Superstar

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Even fans of the Mary Katherine Gallagher skits on Saturday Night Live will find this movie overlong at 82 minutes. It is one thing for a 30-something woman to play the part of a high school girl in a skit, but another to watch her try to act the part of a high school girl in a movie, even one as plotless as this one.

Mary Katherine (Molly Shannon) has one dream — she wants to be passionately kissed. While she waits, she practices on whatever is available, including a tree and a stop sign. Ultimately, she becomes a little more specific in her dream. She wants to be kissed by high school dream date Sky (Will Farrell, also from Saturday Night Live). And she decides that since he is going steady with pretty cheerleader Evian (Elaine Hendrix, repeating her meanie role from “The Parent Trap”) the only way to get his attention is to become a superstar. And she thinks she can do that by winning the Catholic Teen Magazine VD Awareness Talent Contest. Other attempts at humor include a boy with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a television falling on a dog, an Irish step-dancing tragedy, and repeated falling down and showing of the world’s whitest cotton underpants.

Younger teens will get a kick out of the naughty words and slapstick humor and may even relate to Mary Katherine’s struggle to become someone who is admired while staying true to herself. Any older folks who wander in by mistake may enjoy some references to old movies, especially Made-for-TV classics like “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” And families might take this opportunity to talk about the careless cruelty and need to conform of many high school students, and Mary Katherine’s growing understanding that “you have to be your own rainbow” and that what matters is what she thinks about herself, not what Sky thinks about her. But parents should know that there are a number of raunchy references and a portrayal of Mary Katherine’s vision of Jesus that may be offensive to some viewers.

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Comedy High School

10 Things I Hate About You

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Bianca, a beautiful high school sophomore, longs for a social life. But her father will not let her date until her older sister Kat does. Sound familiar? This is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” set in a Tacoma, Washington high school. The movie benefits from appealing performers and some genuinely fresh and funny dialogue, but parents should know that it contains a good bit of material that may be inappropriate for younger teens.

Commedian Larry Miller is terrific as the girls’ father, overprotective because their mother abandoned the family and because as an obstetrician he sees too many pregnant teenagers. But the teachers in the movie are more juvenile than the kids, including a guidance counselor more concerned with writing a very steamy novel than with the behavior and well-being of the students, an English teacher who insults the kids and is arbitrary with discipline, and a soccer coach who is all but comatose at the sight of a girl’s breasts, which she flashes to distract him from a boy’s escape from detention.

Parents should also know that there are a great many references to sex, even by the standards of teen comedies, and especially a number of references to male genitalia, including a boy who draws a picture on the face of another and a boy who pretends to expose himself in the lunchroom, using a bratwurst, as well as the usual teen references to who has “done it.” There is a wild party, with teen drinking and smoking, and brief references to drug use. The scene mentioned above, in which a girl bears her breasts to a teacher, is worth discussing.

On the positive side, the heroines demonstrate a very healthy attitude and strong self-esteem, defending their hearts and their bodies very capably. One admits to having had a bad sexual experience in 9th grade, then deciding she was not ready for sexual involvement, and learning to think for herself in the future. And when one of the characters decides to drink tequila at a party, she ends up dancing in an embarassing fashion and then throwing up in front of the boy she likes.

Kids who enjoy this movie should watch the video of The Taming of the Shrewstarring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The many parallels will make them appreciate this version even more.

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Based on a play High School

Detroit Rock City

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This movie follows four high school boys who are die-hard KISS fans in spite of the overwhelming popularity of disco and the objections of the adults (“KISS stands for Knights In Satan’s Service!”) as they do everything they can think of to get seats to the concert in Detroit. There is little originality, wit, or credibility in the script, but in its own way it is genial and unpretentious and ultimately more winning than some recent overly focus-grouped big studio releases.

One of the mothers burns their tickets and carts her son Jam (Sam Huntington) off to a Catholic boarding school that looks like it was dreamed up by Charles Addams. The other three have to figure out a way to spring him and to find four new tickets so they can see the show. This involves taking another mother’s Volvo, feeding hallucinogenic mushroom pizza to a priest, entering a male stripper contest, foiling two separate robberies, stopping to have sex (one couple loses their virginity in a confessional), sneaking backstage, beating up some disco fans, getting beat up by various other people and by each other, and eventually making it into the sanctum sanctorum of the KISS live performance.

Much of the humor in the film will be lost on people who don’t know every KISS lyric and remember the KISS comic with the band’s blood mixed into the red ink. And it is something of a valentine to sex, drugs, and rock and roll, to say nothing of lying, cheating, stealing, destroying property, and cutting school. Furthermore, it is very much a male fantasy movie, with four teen-age boys triumphing over huge bad guys and winning over beautiful women. It also includes one of the key cliches of the teen movie — the character who has sex for the first time becomes suddenly more mature, braver, wiser, and more powerful. Parents of kids who see this movie may want to discuss these issues.

Most kids will not be interested, however. To the extent that the movie has appeal beyond hardcore KISS fans and those who appreciate the 1970’s references, it is due to its young stars (including Edward Furlong, Natasha Lyonne, and Melanie Lynskey) and the loyalty they show to each other, to their idols, and to their dreams. This lends the movie a welcome sweetness that leaves the audience almost as happy that they make it into the theater as they are.

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Comedy High School
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